On the evening of 14 March, a group of about 30 people came together to discuss decolonizing Global Health. The room in the KIT building was packed, indicating a clear need to be informed about rethinking the structure of Global Health and possible steps for progress.
Facilitated by Kenniscentrum Global Health (KCGH) and KIT, the event was divided into two parts; a presentation by Tamman Aloudat, president of the board of Artsen zonder Grenzen Nederland, and a workshop that highlighted the importance of positionality, epistemic justice and critical consciousness.
A product of colonial history
With the experiences of the COVID pandemic still fresh in our memory, the subject of decolonizing Global Health seems more urgent than ever. For one thing, the shrewd distribution of vaccines on a global scale convincingly laid bare structures dating from colonial times. Aloudat opined that there is no health for many but rather a lot of health for some; the value of life is different in different places. This sour fact is not an accident. He further stated that If you transpose the distribution of the mortality of COVID, or child mortality, on the world map, you would have the perfect map of the history of European colonialism in the world.
He stressed several times during his talk that Global Health in its present state is a product of its colonial history. The entire endeavour of decolonising Global Health starts by acknowledging that these old oppressive structures are still alive in the present. That they are at the root of the inequality in Global Health; the inequality that we are trying address. He backed his statements by pointing out the disposition of resources in Global Health and its use as an instrument of political power.
How to start to change the system?
Aloudat paints a grim picture when it comes to the Global Health challenges that are awaiting us in the near future: We don’t have a Global Health system in place that can cope with the conditions that we will face in a few years’ time; hunger, displacement and conflict will all increase to a much bigger scale.
But how and where do we start to change the system, to decolonize Global Health?
As participants within global health, we should look forward. Creating an emancipatory space that allows for people to make choices, even when they are contrary to those that would be made in more privileged parts of the world; giving a voice to the people being served, rather than compelling them to ideas which do not consider their opinions and expertise.
He further submits that if we give room to evaluate our own position and those of others in a genuine way, it opens the space for others to express their ideas and wishes; space they don’t have at the moment.
There is a need to create a more critical consciousness. But that is not easy.
The workshop at KIT consisted of exercises in groups that nudged the audience to focus on the importance of positionality and epistemic justice. Questions such as, “who created guidelines for research?”, “what narratives are being created and continued?” and “what is my role in global health?” created several moments of introspection on the night.